Thursday, February 4, 2016
Tips for cooking winter squash
Often times the biggest challenge to using a winter squash is cracking it open. Those squashes are hard! Even cooks with the sharpest knives and best knife skills can struggle making a dent. After the conquest of cutting open you still must contend with seeds and slippery, slimy strings.
Try these two approaches instead:
1. If the size is right, cook winter squashes whole in a slow cooker. Wash squash, make sure lid fits securely and cook on low for about 5 to 8 hours, until you can easily pierce a knife all the way through. I don't add water. Cooking period is about half that long on the high setting, although the low setting has the advantage of little risk of overcooking. You can pop a squash in the slow cooker in the morning and walk away. Once cooked, let the squash cool slightly. Cut in half vertically and easily remove strings and seeds. Then scoop away flesh from the peel. Use right away or freeze for later.
2. Soften squashes whole in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes to make them easier to cut. Then remove strings and seeds and cut into pieces for further cooking.
At this point you can go back to the slow cooker, stacking as many pieces as will fit. Or roast in the oven for about an 45-60 minutes, or loosely covered in the microwave checking after 20 minutes. I don't recommend cooking whole in the microwave, for obvious explosive reasons.
Here's one of my family's favorite squash recipes (named after my husband!):
Squash-haters' special request bisque
2 lbs. winter squash (butternut is especially good)
1 large onion
1-2 cloves of garlic
1-2 stalks celery
2 quarts good quality chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup cream (can also use evaporated milk)
Favorite herbs (sage or rosemary work well)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped ham (optional)
Heat oven to 350. Prepare squash by removing seeds and stringy fibers. Place pieces cut side up in pan, uncovered, and put in oven. (It's OK if oven hasn't reached full temperature yet.)
Alternately, you can put prepared pieces in a covered dish in the microwave and cook for 20 minutes. This is quicker than oven method, but I think the roasted flavor the oven imparts is worth it if you have the time.
While squash is baking, mince garlic and chop onion and celery. Add vegetables, bay leaf and chicken stock to a large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, and let vegetables cook until extremely soft.
Check squash in oven for tenderness after about 40 minutes. When done, remove skins from flesh. (If it's too hot to handle, let cool while you do the next step.)
Remove bay leaf from stock mixture and discard. Ladle softened vegetables into blender or food processor and process until smooth. (Do so in batches if needed.) Puree squash with small amount of stock.
Combine everything back into your pot. Slowly stir in cream and warm over low heat. Adjust seasonings and add ham. Serves 8.